I’d walked the same trails hundreds of times. But I wasn’t prepared for the shock of what awaited me that day.
Instead of lush green prairie grasses and towering cottonwood trees in full-leafed glory, I saw burned earth and blackened tree limbs. For about a hundred yards ahead and to each side of my trail, black death covered my scenery with signs of a recent wildfire.
It made me sick, seeing such abject destruction. Moments before I’d been walking with a spring in my step, inhaling the fresh Colorado air and bouncing to the music streaming through my earbuds.
Then, with one bend in the path, everything changed. Flattened grasses. Scorched earth. Decades-old trees turned to ash.
I stopped walking, stunned by the transformation.
Lightening? An errant spark from a neighbor’s backyard grill? The fallout of a youth’s irresponsibility?
I didn’t know. And it didn’t matter. My favorite hike was now ruined.
It’s been two years since I stumbled into the despairing remains of a Colorado wildfire. For the longest time, I didn’t want to go back. But this week, I walked down that same path once again. And this time, I searched for evidence of the fire but could find none. In its place? Prairie grasses even taller and greener than before, and cottonwoods once again showing off their full summer splendor as if the scarring they’d endured two years before only made them stronger.
Maybe it did.
After living in Colorado for over twenty years, I’ve learned a little about the terrors of wildfires, as well as their benefits. The truth is we need the healing natural fires bring. Although I can’t stand the sight of destruction, I know a wildfire is often nature’s way of cleaning out diseased plants and trees, of purging the forest floor of dead leaves and brush to allow for new growth. Nature knows that a little bit of pain is needed for the overall forest to thrive.
I’ve been reading through the book of Acts lately, trying to understand more deeply what made the early church grow the way it did. And this week I stopped and stared at the first eight verses of chapter 8:
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
Acts 8:1-8 (NIV)
I’ve read these verses countless times before, and I’m familiar with the persecution early Christians suffered soon after Jesus ascended to heaven. But what captured my attention were the bookends of these eight verses — and the secret of the church’s early growth:
“On that day a great persecution broke out . . . So there was great joy in that city.”
Great persecution and great joy.
The persecution broke out in Jerusalem. Thus, believers fled the city to the surrounding towns and villages. And, as a result, the good news of Jesus spread like sparks on the wind everywhere they went.
Ultimately, what began as devastation ended up as salvation. Men and women heard about Jesus. Churches formed. Hope grew like a fire. And although the impetus was painful, what appeared to be a worst-case-scenario became the ideal environment for new life to grow.
Pain is unavoidable. It’s a necessary part of the experience of being human. And yet, within the black of pain hides an extraordinary gift. And if you and I look hard into our fires, we may see evidence of sparks that fly in spite of the destruction — a few sparks that, to our amazement, might be the beginnings of great joy.
We have a God who promises to use every bit of death as seed for new life. Nothing wasted, everything gained. So look for the hints of green when all you see is black. Have courage, my friend. It’s there, even if you can’t see it.
And in a year or two or three? Life might come back even stronger than before.
We have a God who promises to use every bit of death as seed for new life. Nothing wasted, everything gained. -@MicheleCushatt: Click To Tweet